Before I met Tom Cantone, I hoped to discover what made him so successful. I was trying to find what has given him the edge that has carried him so far. I tried to not concern myself with the simple fact that Tom Cantone is important, but it was difficult to avoid his successes within the casino industry.
By By Jedidiah Curtis — Photographed by Bobby DiMarzo
I came to the conclusion that accomplishments do not tell the story of a man; accomplishments are more or less chapters within the book of a man. When I met Tom Cantone, I realized that his chapters were filled with true gusto, his famous friends and endless stories just made it fun.
I then wanted to know why other people had taken it upon themselves to do business with Tom. He would constantly refer to his scouting achievements as, “I had an in.” The entertainment industry is something that the general public, and myself, may see as somewhat of a snake pit, a nest for the largely talented hawks that make such an industry thrive. Is Tom Cantone one of those hawks? Or maybe he is a businessman with a sharp eye for opportunity. Possibly the latter, but the man is most definitely not a hawk. He’s a revolutionary.
Tom Cantone is the Senior Vice President of Sports and Entertainment at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. He changed how modern casinos market themselves. This past year, Mohegan Sun Arena has won four national awards. An unprecedented feat, this makes it the most successful casino entertainment venue in the history of modern gaming resorts. Tom Cantone has built an entertainment powerhouse that is now considered one of the elite top stops in the world. Tom’s memoir Book’Em tells the story of his journey; he touches on the shining moments as well as the moments he is less proud of. If I learned anything from Tom’s book it is that he is an honest and genuine man, and I caught a glimpse of this before we even began the interview.
As my crew and I shuffled into Mr. Cantone’s office, the first thing I noticed was Tom holding the door for the bell-hop who was escorting our photography equipment. I felt this to be an inconspicuous act, but a rather special one too. I was once told that people get jobs for one reason; not because you’re the best, not because you’re the most well known, but because people want to work with you. If people want to work with you, you’ll find your way in this mixed up world. The truth to that can be found in the pages of Tom Cantone’s memoir. This is a guy who people want to work with. I wanted to find out why.
As I sat down with Tom, his excitement over the memoir was undeniable. You could tell he was still in awe at the fact he had written a book, and moreover, that people were buying it. We were settling in to begin the interview as Tom pulled out his ledger to show us that an individual from Morocco had purchased Book’Em, and Tom was elated. I could not help but notice the sincerity in his eyes. I was amazed. Biting my nails, hands clammy, I was extremely nervous to meet this mountainous man whose reputation unfolded in my head as we walked through the casino. And yet, when I met Tom, all of my butterflies seemed to disappear.
This is the kind of man Tom is. Someone who can make you feel comfortable despite the fact he was receiving phone calls from Tony Orlando in the middle of our interview.
The interview was to focus on Tom’s career, which undoubtedly was the topic of his memoir. I mentioned above that Tom was a revolutionary. This is because Tom’s goal was to be different. To identify the norm, do the opposite, and reap the benefits. I asked Tom if there was something he saw wrong with the casino industry at the time that led him down such a path? Tom simply said, “I saw that everyone was doing the same thing, same names, same venues, over and over again.” It seems simple, but in a market so entrenched as the casino industry was at the time, this was no easy feat, and it all began with Eddie Murphy.
The story about booking Eddie Murphy was Tom’s crown jewel and the first passage of his book. This was the moment Tom became a revolutionary, “If we can bring in Eddie Murphy, that would break open the floodgates for contemporary artists who would surely follow suite.” At the time, Eddie Murphy was a huge superstar, and a rather risqué one at that. For Eddie Murphy to play the Sands Copa Room was unheard of. To this Mr. Cantone simply said, “I had an in.” Tom went on to describe how he had a young, aggressive marketing team who offered a lot of help in obtaining his prudent visions, “My mindset was that we had to be different in order to break through the clutter of sameness in the industry.”
This is exactly what Tom and his team at the Sands Casino in Atlantic City did. Starting with Eddie Murphy the names come pouring in, to the mysterious act of Steve Martin as “The Great Flydini,” to the emotional experience with Jennifer Lopez putting together an entire show for one night. Cantone was getting the best acts and giving the best show. It was for the people, and the people loved it. As the marketing head at some of the most well-known casinos in the world, he always used entertainment to win the marketing war.
What was it that made Tom so successful? Well, he simply understood the industry. It was a peoples industry and entertainment was the name of the game, not marketing. It came down to breaking the mold in order to make an industry which floated, into an industry which soared. With Tom comes his killer relationships, his people and leadership skills, and his deal making and sense of timing. He is one of the very few casino executives who knows how to drive volume profitably. All of which make him a prime candidate to run today’s modern casino resort.
As the interview moved along I heard stories of Ringo Starr and the fulfillment of Tom’s childhood dreams, “That’s the biggest pinch yourself moment, just a kid from Harrisburg, PA being apart of the lives of your heroes.” I heard hilarious stories of Regis Philbin and Tom’s college football rivalries. Tom had endless stories as we laughed throughout the interview.
Tom is a hard working opportunist, and that was the catch. He is important because he made himself that way, not because he believed himself to be, “I was blessed to have the opportunities come my way. I took advantage of each and every one of them.” People want to work with Tom because he is simply a great guy. He credits and praises his team more than himself. “I work with the finest group of talented men and women who are all part of making us number one in the world.”
As the interview came to a close Scene publisher/creative director Bobby DiMarzo, who is a dear friend of Mr. Cantone, began snapping photos for this very article. I stood by, reflecting on the interview; I had found what I was looking for. Tom had a great story to tell, and he told it in the best way. He succeeded in flipping casino entertainment upside down, and humbly, revolutionizing the industry in the process. Tom broke it down simply, “You’ve got to be nice in this business. It’s all about relationships. Family is first, people are first, it’s more important to be nice than important.” Tom really helped me understand that the stereotypes must be broken, change is inevitable, and that people are at the forefront. When asked about priorities, he’s most proud that he is a father first to three children, Brooke, Marc and Tessa, and a husband to his stunning wife Anissa, a woman that changed his life. They are the only celebrities that adorn his office walls.
I highly recommend reading Tom Cantone’s story within the pages of Book’Em, which you can find at tomcantonebookem.com. You won’t be disappointed by all the antics, which I could hardly begin to describe here. It is truly a fascinating life, and an inspiring man.